Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Choosing Bicycle Over Car

The more I ride my bike(s) the less I want to be in a car. We've talked for years now in our household about being car-free or car-light, and while I don't think we will ever be able to be completely car-free, I've shared here that my preference would be to live a life not requiring the use of a vehicle. There are always things that can be done to make it happen, but I've managed to find reasons to hang on to cars that seem completely logical - at least in the past. I'm sure there are others who can identify with some of these sentiments, but I think the reality of not wanting to be in a car has become even more true for me this year. I'm not entirely sure what has changed or been altered within me over the last several months, but I really have almost no desire to ever travel in a motorized vehicle (the rare occasions seem to be when we need to get somewhere more than 30 miles away from home). I have a theory that there are several factors taking place, creating a situation in which I will almost automatically turn to a bike before a vehicle. So, I figured what better place to share these thoughts and to filter through the things that seem plausible and those that are perhaps completely ludicrous.

#1: The Weather
We had an incredibly light winter season and a glorious summer (it's really not over, I suppose). Truly, we had our ridiculous amounts of snow in late spring, and I even managed to ride through a lot of that time, appreciating cycling cautiously and a bit more slowly. Short rides, traveling only to places I needed to go, were the order of the spring snow weeks/months, but beyond that 6-8 weeks of getting dumped on, it's been a pleasant, fabulous, beautiful year. Okay, we've had our time of flooding, which has been incredibly crazy here toward the end of summer, but even that hasn't seemed to keep me away from riding. It's become difficult to stay off a bike when it is (and even isn't) so nice outside. Who wants to be cramped up in a car, fighting with traffic, yelling at people who are texting on their phones anyway? Speaking of yelling at people in other cars...

#2: The "Mr. Wheeler" Effect
I will freely admit I have my moments as a "Mr. Wheeler." It may not be quite as bad as illustrated in the cartoon (well, maybe it is), but I find myself angry almost instantly when getting behind the wheel of an automobile. I believe some of it stems from being on the other side and watching the extremely dumb things some drivers do on the roads, but it also comes into play when people don't know the rules of the road, aren't paying attention while driving, are driving too fast/slow, pretty much you name it and it probably angers me while driving. If I'm walking or riding a bike, these things don't seem to get to me. Even if there's a momentary incident (for instance, someone running a red light and nearly killing me, causing me to fear for my safety and causing me to lash out with an angry word or two), it seems to pass incredibly quickly. I don't dwell on it, and usually (unless it's a really bad/scary incident), I tend to forget about them within seconds. I don't like the person I become in a vehicle, however, so I tend to be opting for a bike whenever possible.

#3: Bicycle Adaptation
One of the things that really helped out with using a bike instead of a car was finding a solution to the trips that require me to carry more items than a mere bike rack can handle (God bless the bike rack, but it isn't always the most convenient solution). The reality is that sometimes there are loads that need to be carried that require a bit more space. We had talked about getting a box bike or a longtail that would allow for more carrying capacity, but we have enough bikes and the reality is that it would only be used a few times a month for short trips. Investing thousands (or even hundreds on used) in another bike just seemed unnecessary, not to mention lack of storage space. Enter the genius, Sam. He scoured Craigslist looking for an older Burly trailer, took it apart, and created a platform that I can use to carry an array of items. In the photo above, I was carrying about 50 lbs worth of paint supplies (both in and out of a large box), but it works just as well for big loads of groceries, giant bags of dog food, and anything that doesn't work with the normal carrying capacity of a bike. I don't need to have it on the bike all of the time because it is added or removed from a hitch with one motion. Easy peasey. Total investment was about $70, and it basically took away almost any excuse I could have to drive a car. If I can carry what I need to, can I really say that I "need" the car?
*Image found here
#4: The Right Bicycle for the Right Job
This year has found me a bit confused about my own bike-self. What I mean by this is that I love transportation cycling because it's fun, easy, and of course, better than being in a car, but I have also found myself wanting to extend my road bike rides - my training rides - my other-than-picking-stuff-up rides. This had me searching for a lighter road bike that would take me (hopefully) to places I wanted to go. I also discovered a desire for more dirt and gravel type rides. One of the great things about my Rivendell is that it's a great middle of the road kind of bike. In theory, it can do all of these things, but it wouldn't be the best choice for all of these things, all of the time, with a singular set up. In truth, I like using the Riv as my city bike, knowing that it can take me beyond just the city itself, but I also like knowing that I have a road bike that will take me on a century a bit faster, and having a gravel bike that's set up with appropriate tires to take me on those types of rides. Having the right bike for the appropriate ride makes me want to use each of them more because I find that I am more comfortable with a bike that's suited to the specific type of riding I'm engaged in at that moment. When I'm not miserable after a ride, it's easy to go on another, and then another. Basically, it feeds itself without a lot of extra work.

There are other valid reasons that keep me choosing a bike over an automobile, but I think these are the major contributors to my personal mind shift. What do you think? Are there times when it seems inappropriate to choose a bicycle, or have you integrated cycling into your life to the point that a car seems unnecessary?


  1. Great points GE!

    I've come to the conclusion that it's all about balance. You can overbalance either way, to the bike or the car. Most people overbalance toward the car obviously, but I think we can do that with the bike too. It's liberating to use the bike for things you would normally use the car for, but if you're driving that way anyway you might as well use the car for your chores.

    1. I am absolutely all about efficiency, and the reality is that sometimes the car just makes the most sense. I have nothing against having an automobile, but I've found it fascinating that I've just avoided using it frequently - especially through this year. It makes even less sense to have a car and then never use it because of the costs associated with vehicle ownership (even without a car payment), but I can definitely see how it would be easy to swing too far either way when it comes to transportation use. Balance is key.

  2. I've been motivated to go car free or car light since I lived in Germany for college. All I had was a bike to get around and it changed me forever. My hubby is not too keen on the idea however since we have two very young kids. Before I had the baby (this summer) I was bike commuting my daughter to her daycare about three days a week. I work from home so it was nice to get out and about and get exercise. A bakfiets or Madsen bike would be great! Weather definitely plays a factor

    1. I also work from home, and I think it's sometimes a bit easier to know that there's no real commute involved, so my biking revolves around errands, appointments/occasional meetings, or training. Perhaps it is why I enjoy it more - knowing that I don't have the same ride every day? I'm not sure.

      How great to live in Germany during college, too! :O)


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